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Tuesday, 28 February 2012
Page: 2045

Asylum Seekers

Mrs MARKUS (Macquarie) (14:52): My question is to the Prime Minister. I remind the Prime Minister of her commitment before the last election that she would rule out for offshore processing any country that was not a signatory to the refugee convention. Why has the Prime Minister refused to accept the coalition's proposal to enshrine this requirement in the Migration Act?

Ms GILLARD (LalorPrime Minister) (14:52): The present policy of the opposition as I understand it—and it has moved on a number of occasions—is, despite the risks pointed to by the Chief of Navy in Senate estimates, to endeavour to turn back boats and to return asylum seekers to Indonesia, a country that is not a signatory to the refugee convention. And it is to do that in circumstances in which no agreement about any protections for those asylum seekers have been negotiated, including the most fundamental protection to which the refugee convention obligates a nation: to not return asylum seekers to the place where they were persecuted. That hypocrisy from the opposition comes against the backdrop of having said in this parliament that its position is to argue for a change to the Migration Act that limits offshore processing to countries that are signatories to the refugee convention. So the opposition's current policy is a hypocrisy compared with what they said in this place. What they said in this place was a hypocrisy compared with the conduct of the Howard government—

The SPEAKER: Order! The Prime Minister will withdraw the word 'hypocrisy'.

Ms GILLARD: I will withdraw it and replace it with 'complete contradiction' to the policy of the Howard government, which had asylum seekers processed in a non-signatory country, Nauru. Let us just check these policies over time: they did not care about the refugee convention, then said it was pivotal and now do not care about the refugee convention.

Mr Pyne: Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The Prime Minister was asked about her own complete contradiction, not about our policies. She was asked about the refugee convention, the position she took before the last election and the position she now adopts, and that is the question she should be answering.

The SPEAKER: I am sure the Prime Minister will address the specifics of the question.

Ms GILLARD: I was directly asked about the opposition's policy and whether or not I would endorse it. I was directly asked about that, and I am being directly relevant. If the opposition do not want me to talk about their policy, they should not ask me about it. Let us go down the convoluted road. When they are in government they process in Nauru; it is not a signatory to the refugee convention. They go to the 2010 election saying, in the words of the shadow minister, 'No, it's not a precondition that Nauru is a signatory to the refugee convention.' That is the policy the opposition took to the Australian people. Then they backflipped in this parliament because their political interest was in seeing more boats. They wanted to stymie legislation going through this parliament after the High Court case. Now they appear to have backflipped again with a policy that has all the risks the Chief of Navy has pointed to for ADF personnel. All this convolution points to putting political interest above the national interest. The opposition want to see more boats.